It probably goes without saying that technology has changed our working lives dramatically over the past 5 years.
There seems to be a digital way of doing just about anything, and for the most part – technology has made our work a lot easier.
But there are some tasks that are still best done offline, and unplugged.
After all, you can’t fix something that isn’t broken – and when it comes to certain everyday office tasks – doing on paper still wins.
Here are 4 tasks at work that are better done the old fashioned way.
There are countless to-do list apps available across browsers, and mobile devices – and if you’re an app junkie then you’ve probably got a couple to-do list apps downloaded, synced with your browser, your phone, your calendar and your colleagues’ email inboxes…
But are you really getting anything done on those lists?
To-do lists are a powerful organising tool, but as we move our to-do lists into the digital world, we’re losing the nuance of focused prioritisation, and are becoming too dependent on tech to remind us to care about the tasks we’ve listed.
The truth is, when we write down tasks on online to-do lists, we do so in a rapid fire, blaise kind of way. Mainly because we’re doing so on a device that makes giving full attention almost impossible.
Whether you’re at your desktop, or on your smartphone, typing out tasks on an app doesn’t allow the same focus as writing out tasks on paper.
When you write out your to-do lists on paper, a couple of things happen:
You’re more likely to be focused, and will give yourself time to properly consider each task; enabling you to break them up if needed, and prioritise them accordingly.
Secondly, you’re engaging multiple senses – which actually helps you form memory. Memory is important here, because you’ll need to remember the tasks you have on your day’s to-do list in order to properly keep on top of them before close of business.
To get the most out of writing your to-do lists, make sure you set aside time every day (preferably at the same time each day to help you keep the habit) where you write down your list, on paper, away from your computer.
Although plenty of to-do apps allow for some variation of prioritisation and sub-tasks, another benefit to writing your to-do list on paper is that you have total control over how your to-do list functions.
How do you like to prioritise and categorise tasks? Do you like to write mini sub-tasks under a main task to make big tasks easier? You can create to-do lists that are unique to you.
Keep this list visible at your desk for the rest of the day to reference, and check items off – one by one.
Brainstorming & Planning
Coming up with solutions, and new ideas to meet old, and current demands is one of the more mentally demanding tasks that is undertaken in the workplace.
Whilst technology can help with bringing ideas to life, it often falls short when it comes to inducing the creative thinking needed to break through problems and figure out new ideas and solutions.
Try brainstorming (and subsequently planning) new campaigns, strategies, and other solutions on paper and face-to-face.
We often brainstorm in teams, which is great, because different perspectives and fields of expertise are better at figuring out solutions than a single mind alone.
When brainstorming together, there shouldn’t be any devices or computers in the room. You all need to focus on the task at hand, and more importantly – one another.
After all, what use are alternative perspectives and skills if you’re not listening to one another wholeheartedly?
Even if you think using your phone to take notes and intermittently text your partner under the boardroom table is no big deal, it certainly puts a damper on the flow of creativity and problem solving in a social setting.
Taking notes is an important part of daily office life.
Whether you’re trying to gather the thoughts and ideas thrown around during a meeting, or are trying to memorise what you are taught during an upskilling workshop or webinar – notes are crucial.
The issue with taking notes on a digital device is – once again – exposure to distraction.
If you choose to take notes on a laptop or iPad, for example, you may find yourself checking your email inbox without really knowing why, or even zoning out of the workshop or meeting completely.
Taking notes with a paper and pen will always be a better system. By engaging multiple senses, and ensuring there are no distractions, you are more likely to listen to, and properly integrate the information being handed to you.
Note taking on paper also allows for creativity; allowing you to use drawings, graphs – or other visual cues – to properly understand ideas.
When you take notes on a large screen, you’re also missing out on vital eye contact, which is not only proper etiquette when meeting with, or learning from others face-to-face, but it’ll also help you understand what is being said on a deeper level.
In some ways, listening involves more than just your ears!
Long Form Writing
Long form writing (that is, writing anything that requires sustained focus – such as an article, report, or email or website content) is one of those things that at first glance seems to have been improved upon by technology.
Tech has allowed us to save a lot of time and resources when it comes to writing. We can easily make edits on the fly, and most word processing applications even allow us to recall previous drafts of a document as we work on it. We can share our document with others for further proofing, and editing suggestions.
All in all, writing digitally seems to be a positive.
But where writing digitally fails is in its ability to help us focus.
We need a lot of sustained, consistent focus when writing a longer piece, and unfortunately most word processing applications don’t hide us away from the plethora of distractions that a 2018 computer gives access to.
We could be halfway through an important report on Google docs, only to get a browser notification that we have an urgent email from a boss. Taking a ‘quick second’ to check that email quickly turns into 30 minutes of distracted time.
Because of how distracting our computers, and the online world has become, writing on a computer does have drawbacks.
We’re not suggesting that writing on parchment with a quill is the best way to get that report done, after all – you’ll have to type it all up afterwards – but there are some ways of removing distractions during the writing process.
First of all, get your plan down on paper.
As we covered above, planning on paper is much better than planning on the computer. You can be a lot more creative with a pen in hand, and a lot more focused when away from a screen.
Figure out what you’re writing, and then figure out what you plan to say, and in what order.
You’re not writing a full blown draft at this stage, as that is definitely best done on a word processor (to save your sanity), but creating your plan with full attention will save you once you are inevitably distracted when typing up the main event on your computer.
When you are pulled away from your piece by an email notification, or the tempting siren song of Facebook, when it comes down to returning to your article, or report, it’ll be easier to pick up from where you left off.
Why? Because you have a hand written plan telling you exactly what you need to write, and when.
A hell of a useful tool when you’ve just been distracted and are trying to get your bearings.
If you’re working on a piece that needs to be as polished as possible, it might be worth trying to minimise online distractions even though you’re typing up at your computer.
You could disconnect from the internet, which easily stops notifications, social media pings, and team chats from cluttering up your mind and taking your focus.
Alternatively, there are focus-driven word processing applications that are designed to minimise distraction. FocusWriter, for example.
Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s better.
An interesting phenomenon is happening in the modern world: as we rush to digitise every aspect of our lives, some people are returning to old school ways of doing things.
Whether it’s the recent uptick in vinyl sales, or the budding renaissance of board games, people are waking up to the value of doing things the analogue way.
It’s no different when it comes to work.
Pen and paper have been around for thousands of years – and its longevity only goes to show that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Pen and paper win over the computer in just a few, significant ways: they are distraction free, and they help you engage your senses, and mind more fully.
Try doing some of your tasks at the office the old fashioned way, and see if it helps you take back a bit more control in this highly digitised world.